My desire as it stands now is to be the pastor of a church. Considering that that church will probably be a United Methodist church, that is if the conference accepts me, will make for an interesting pastorate. The United Methodist Church is not unique, and I know the problems that it is experiencing are hardly unknown elsewhere. However, the challenge will be unique for a guy like me who doesn’t hold allegiance to any particular faction within the church, and the allegiances I do hold are to dead guys or ideas and ideals. It will also be unique because I have experienced church outside of the Methodist church and know that not only is it not all that bad, it is in fact quite desirable.
This creates a problem.
Because it means I’m reaching back to traditions, intents, purposes and dreams of the Methodist mission from long ago and desiring the put the same desire back in play. It also means that I am influenced by a different way of doing church. Why is this a problem? Well, I’m reaching beyond recent history, that is, I’m going back further than the birthday years of anyone currently in the Methodist church. I’m also reaching into another recent history, that is a recent history that is coinciding with, but very much separate from, the Methodism that a large majority of Methodists know.
I’m certainly bound to bump a few heads because of this.
Bump heads because when you pull in something from a tradition that people know of, but are decidedly not a part of, they get angry. It’s an issue of purity, or some type of rightness, so I will essentially be seen as bringing in impurity and a type of wrongness. Some might say I’m bringing in “sinful devilish” stuff.
Bump heads because when you reach beyond recent history you reach beyond recent memory, but also because I’ll be reaching back not for a practice, but a purpose. History changes, and the recent history becomes the new normal. The new normal has new practices and these new practices influence a vastly different purpose to most. So I will be bringing in a totally new worldview and mission.
The way I see it is that my mission will be up against the monument.
As institutions progress they become invested in things and stuff: buildings, people, positions, ideas, missions, beliefs. This is of course not a bad thing, there needs to be investment in a mission for there to be one, and often the mission necessitates investment in other areas. That’s just the way it goes.
The problem arises when the sight of the mission is lost and the investments are no longer missional investments but institutional cornerstones. No longer do they serve a purpose that looks out, up and forward; instead, the purpose they serve is as a foundational object of the church, they become part of the the church’s identity.
Of course its clear as to what’s wrong with this. The identity has transitioned from the mission’s goal to the mission’s support. You build a building to hold the functions, hire a staff position, fund an account, etc. to support the mission, and what ends up happening is the mission then becomes the support, because the church cannot be that church without that building for that purpose, that position, that account funding that. The identity is static and about maintenance, not dynamic and about impact.
Now the whole church isn’t locked into this maintenance mission. The newer or younger members weren’t apart of the growth and development of the work and mission that brought such things to fruition. They, in fact, have other missional goals and ideas.
But now we have tension. The establishment members, not necessarily older, have built an identity into something and are having to work with a group of people who are working towards something else. The establishment members also have leadership in the church, be they official or not, which means that the mission that they prefer to support can get supported purely by institution even if there is no passion or energy behind it.
This is what I see myself getting into. I will be over a church that might have many people in support of a monument. (Monument is a harsh term, I know. It denotes that these people have constructed and are supporting a testament to themselves. This is what it can ultimately become I think, though it doesn’t start of this way. It just so happens when you build a house you kind of like to live in it.)
Where as I, and perhaps a strong contingent of others will be in support of a mission. (OK, likewise, this term deems my position far more favorable. However, it is, identity should be wrapped up in mission which is work towards a house that is not ours but Gods, that is, it is a working towards something beyond.)
I’m sure I’ll navigate the waters well enough. You don’t fight the monument by tearing it down, you fight it by getting the people who built it to see that it’s bricks can be better used elsewhere. Now of course that’s a whole other task in its own. However, at some point I might need to just take a stand and knock out a few bricks on my own every now and then…
This is the United Methodist Church that I’m willingly walking into.